Romney: Santorum Trying to 'Kidnap' Michigan Primary

Tuesday, 28 Feb 2012 11:39 AM

 

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Mitt Romney said Rick Santorum is trying to “kidnap” the Republican presidential nomination process by encouraging Democrats to vote in Michigan today.

Romney is trying to avoid the embarrassment of losing in the state where he was born and his father was a popular three- term governor. Santorum is seeking to prove he is a legitimate front-runner who can win in bigger states and not just generate a short-lived surge in an unsettled campaign.

Santorum’s campaign is making automated phone calls to Michigan Democrats to urge them to vote for their candidate, citing Romney’s opposition to the $82 billion federal automotive bailout, which Santorum also opposed. Romney told reporters the calls are the “dirty tricks of a desperate campaign.”

“Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process,” Romney said in Livonia, Michigan.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he believes that the economy will ultimately trump other issues as the most important for voters, even as he struggles to win over the fiscal and social conservative base of his party amid a challenge from Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator.

“It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments and we’ve seen throughout the campaign if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are really accusative and attacking President Obama that you’re going to jump up in the polls,” Romney said. “I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.”

Democrats Voting

Santorum’s emergence as the main challenger to Romney will be tested today as the Michigan primary and another in Arizona determine who has the momentum before Super Tuesday on March 6, when 11 states will hold contests with more than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination at stake.

One unknown in Michigan is how many Democrats and independents will cast ballots in the open primary. Some members of the United Auto Workers have said they plan to vote for Santorum or Representative Ron Paul of Texas in a bid to extend the primary fight and prevent Romney from winning the state.

Romney, in a Fox News interview yesterday, said the calls from the Santorum campaign encouraging Democrats to vote represent a “new low” in the campaign.

In Kalamazoo, Santorum, 53, told reporters yesterday that he has long said that he has a message that can appeal to Democrats. “They’re allowed to vote,” he said. “Everybody that wants to vote for us, I encourage to vote. Why wouldn’t we encourage people to vote for us?”

Closing Arguments

In the closing hours in Michigan, the two men sparred over their conservative credentials and economic expertise.

Santorum told 350 supporters at Heritage Christian Academy in Kalamazoo that Romney “uniquely disqualifies himself on the biggest issue in the general election, the ability to go after Barack Obama on the government takeover of health care.”

That’s because Romney signed health-care legislation in Massachusetts that, like the law championed by Obama, had a requirement that all people buy health insurance.

Romney retorted that his strength is the economy. Santorum is an “economic lightweight,” he said.

“The reason that I’m going to beat Barack Obama in Michigan in the fall is because this is going to be a contest about who can strengthen the economy,” Romney, 64, told a rally in Royal Oak last night. To accomplish that, he said, “I need you guys to get out the vote tomorrow.”

As the candidates sniped, party leaders fretted that the negativity is distracting Republicans from targeting Obama.

Negative Campaign

“I worry a little bit, too, about our candidates having a negative campaign toward each other,” Mississippi’s Republican Governor Phil Bryant said yesterday after leaving a White House meeting. “But when we come through this vetting process, whoever comes out of that is going to be a man of iron.”

Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to Obama’s re-election campaign, disagreed. Romney has been “greatly weakened” in Michigan, he said in an interview.

“Independent voters in Michigan and throughout the upper Midwest have gotten an up-close look at Mitt Romney the past many weeks and his actions in support of letting Detroit go bankrupt, and they have come to a conclusion that they don’t like what they see,” Gibbs said.

Polls in Michigan suggest a close race, while Romney enjoys a lead in Arizona, the other state that will host a primary today. Voting in both states ends at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

“We’ll work through all this,” said Michigan Attorney general Bill Schuette, Romney’s Michigan campaign chairman.

Tougher Competitor

The race in Michigan, he said, has made Romney a tougher, stronger competitor by forcing him to go on the attack against Santorum. “This has frankly sharpened Mitt Romney,” he said.

“It’s hard to view any of these contests in a vacuum,” Romney campaign adviser Tom Rath said. Wins today would “have significant ripple effects in all the states that are out there.”

Michigan will award 30 delegates based on how the candidates do in each of the state’s congressional districts, while the winner in Arizona will get all 29 delegates. That’s one reason Santorum has concentrated on Michigan, and it might mean that the overall vote-total winner in the state won’t necessarily collect the most convention delegates.

In Ohio, one of the March 6 states, Santorum leads Romney among likely Republican voters 36 percent to 29 percent, according to a poll by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. The survey was taken Feb. 23-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Gingrich and Paul

Neither of the two other Republican presidential contenders -- former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Paul -- has competed aggressively in Michigan, concentrating instead on states voting next month.

Gingrich’s efforts may get a boost with Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., planning to give a fresh infusion of cash to a political action committee backing Gingrich, according to a person close to the organization who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss its finances.

The undisclosed amount will fund pro-Gingrich television ads to run in seven states that hold contests in early March, the person said.

The group, Winning Our Future, had $2.4 million as February started, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Almost all of its $11 million in donations in January came from Adelson and his wife. Data compiled by Bloomberg show he is among the top 20 wealthiest people in the world.

Television Ad Spending

Spending in Michigan on television commercials by Romney’s campaign and a political action committee backing him has outpaced expenditures on behalf of Santorum by about 3-2, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising.

The Romney campaign and Restore Our Future spent $2.85 million to air ads 5,544 times on Michigan broadcast television stations through Feb. 26, CMAG reported. Santorum and the Red White and Blue Fund, a PAC supporting him, spent $1.94 million to air ads 4,749 times.


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